________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 4 . . . . October 20, 2000

cover Drowning in Secrets.

Brenda Bellingham.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 1998.
180 pp., paper, $5.99.
ISBN 0-590-12487-0.

Subject Headings:
Parents-Death-Juvenile fiction.
Drowning victims-Juvenile fiction.
Mental illness-Juvenile fiction.
Secrecy-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 - 9 / Ages 11- 14.

Review by Cheryl Archer.

*** /4


A woman, dressed in white, floats a little below the surface of the water, the skirt of her dress gently lifting and falling, her skin bone-white, her legs caught by the weeds. Terrified, she stretches up her white arms for help.
    Help her! Get her out! Now, before it's too late! Chloe screams.
    She reaches through the water, but the woman's hands slip out of her grasp. Again she tries. And again. Each time she fails. The woman will sink soon, down, down into the weeds, never to escape. To reach her, Chloe will have to dive into the water, but she can't bring herself to do it. What if she becomes entangled in the weeds, too, bound by their unyielding tendrils, unable to move?
    Something brushes against her. The woman's arms and legs weave through her own. Chloe pushes the woman away, but the body floats back toward her. There is no fear in the woman's eyes now, no appeal for help.
    Chloe is too late.
Chloe Griffiths, 16, is haunted by the recurring nightmare of a drowning woman. Her own mother drowned when she was only five. And Chloe has no memory of her mother. Could she somehow be responsible for her mother's death? Would this explain the horrible dreams and her panic attacks around water? To answer these questions, Chloe, against her father's wishes, leaves her Edmonton home to visit Salmon Arm, BC, where she hopes her mother's identical twin will tell her what really happened.
    So begins Chloe's journey. At her mother's childhood home on Shuswap Lake, Chloe re-kindles an old friendship with kind, good-looking Danny Wickel, becomes re-acquainted with her aunt and forgetful grandmother, and is increasingly frustrated by the secrecy surrounding her mother's death as well as the fact no body was ever found. At a turning point in the novel, Chloe finally recalls what happened that summer so long ago when she and her mother went sailing. However, questions still abound. Another horrifying boating expedition with an unexpected visitor helps Chloe make sense of her situation and bring closure. She is then able to forgive her mother and move forward in her relationship with her father as she has gained a deeper understanding of that profound human emotion- - love.
    From the start, Bellingham's plot will hook readers. Chloe has an important goal - to discover what happened to her mother and visit her mother's family for the first time since the death. The conflict she experiences as she sets out after this goal creates tension that's sure to keep readers interested. The uncertainty and stress Chloe endures in her relationships with adults will strike a familiar chord with young adults, as will her romantic feelings toward Danny. Internal dialogue is well-written, ensuring readers will identify with Chloe's fragile emotional state. Also noteworthy are the wise insights into the complexities of love as well as mental illness. Written in third person, past tense, this smoothly-told story will keep readers guessing until the end what actually happened to Chloe's mother.
    Although this is a compelling read, there are several flaws. At times, an adult voice intrudes. For instance, when Chloe remarks, "... but I've never tried sculpting - oh, except in clay - but stone seems very hard," she then blushes "... at her accidental pun." Do teenagers really think in terms of puns? There are also occasions mid-way through the novel when the action sags, leaving the reader restless for something more to happen, the stakes to be raised. Nitpicking aside, Drowning in Secrets is a book many young adults, especially girls, are certain to enjoy. After all, who isn't intrigued by secrets ...?


Cheryl Archer, author of Snow Watch and past Manitoba Officer for the Canadian Children's Book Centre, currently writes full-time in Cochrane, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364